If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:1-3
“Think of what is above, not of what is on earth,” Colossians says. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Doesn’t that sound terrible? That we have to be “hidden”? Lost, unseen, unknown. That we have to think not of the earth, of this world we love so much, with all its beauty and its people, but only of God, only of something that seems so distant and abstract?
But I don’t think that’s really what this passage means at all. I think it means the opposite. I think it means that we are all called to freedom and creativity and joy. I think it means that we are called to be fully and completely ourselves.
I think we misread this imagery of up and down and above and below, as we misread Paul in Galatians when he talks about the “Flesh” and the “Spirit.” If we take it face value, that kind of language can play into our natural dualism, into our either/or thinking, and we forget that in Christ all is paradox, that in him the logic is never either/or. It’s always both/and.
For it’s in Colossians, too, that we have the glorious creation hymn, that all things were created in Christ from the beginning of time and all things continue in being in him, that all is Holy, all is good. Jesus isn’t just divine. He’s also human, always and at the same time, one without ever diminishing the other, and he doesn’t just die, he rises, and when we die into him we rise with him, into life—a new, warm, fully human life. That’s what it means to be hidden: not hidden from God. God sees us always, he loves us and approves of us, as a parent loves and approves of a child. It’s the falseness and the phoniness and the shabbiness that we’re hidden from now, that we’re free of, that we don’t care about anymore.
Anthony DeMello makes the brilliant observation that from birth we all given the same drug and we all become addicted to it. “We are not allowed to enjoy the solid, nutritious food of life—namely work, play, fun, laughter, the company of people, the pleasures of the senses and the mind,” De Mello says. “We are given a taste for the drug called approval, appreciation, attention.” We are taught to define ourselves by what others think. We are taught to let other people tell us whether we should feel good or bad about ourselves.
This is what we have to die to. This is what Christ frees us from. In another brilliant comment DeMello says that we’ve all misunderstood the famous prayer of St. Ignatius: Lord Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding and my will. All that I have and cherish you have given me. I surrender it all to be guided by your will.
I’ve always been frightened of that prayer, as lots of people have. I’m afraid that if I give everything to God he will take it away. But “that’s ludicrous,” DeMello says. “What is God going to do with an idiot, if we lose our memory and understanding?” No, God isn’t going to destroy our gifts, he’s going to use them—and he’s going to use them, he’s going to decide what to do with them, not some boss or editor or YouTube follower.
I think Jesus is telling us not to put all our energy into preparing for the future because he wants us to pay attention to the present moment. I think he wants us to be like the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. I think what Ecclesiastes says about the vanity of all our efforts is supposed to make us deeply happy. It’s supposed to free us from all these stupid things we get wrapped up in.
Here’s a little poem by Kaylin Haught that captures what I’m trying to say. I’m not sharing it because it addresses God as a “she,” although scripture now and then uses feminine imagery to describe God, and the Church clearly teaches that God is beyond all gender anyway.* But that’s not what I love about this poem. I love it because I think it shows what being hidden with Christ really means, the joy that comes from it and the confidence and the spontaneity:
God Says Yes To Me
I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes
The speaker in the poem isn’t worrying about what other people will think of her paragraphs or her fingernails. She only cares about what God thinks, and God says “do whatever most kindles love in you,” as St. Teresa of Avila put it.
Do what you really want—not the sinful things, not the false impulses. Those aren’t our real desires. Do what you deeply, truly want, do what’s real, and you will be doing God’s will
Wear nail polish or don’t wear nail polish. Paragraph your letters or don’t paragraph your letters. All that matters is now. All that matters is the moment.
Honey, sweetcakes, Jesus says. What I’m telling you is: Yes Yes Yes
*At the same time, I don’t think we should disparage the more common masculine metaphors the scriptures use to point to God, because I think those images are revelatory, are part of what we glimpse about who God really is. That’s what they give us, a glimpse, not a full picture—but a glimpse, and a glimpse of something we believe is true. There is something fatherly, we believe, about the nature of the God who loves us.
For that matter, we shouldn’t accept without thinking the usual assumptions about fatherliness itself—that “father” represents power and oppression—because in the Christian tradition, that’s not at all what fatherhood represents. Power, yes, but not oppression. Love. Graciousness. Self-giving. Tact. Hiddenness. Gentleness. God is a god who as father gives us freedom and who wants us to thrive.